Tag Archives: Learning to write

The Publishing Merry-go-Round

I had restructured, edited and rewritten my whole book. Spent nights and days thinking about nothing else.

It was time to send it out to traditional publishers.

I researched how to write a pitch or query letter. There are plenty of great ones on line.  I carefully read the submission requirements for each publisher. I tested the waters and sent the first three chapters off to three or four publishers.  Then sent another three or four and so on. So then the waiting began. Most tell you that if they want to read more they’ll get back to you. You may never hear back and, if three months has passed then you know that you will never get a response. That’s just the way it is. It’s nothing personal – it’s just business.

One afternoon I received a phone call from Adam. He rang to let me know that my submission had been received- a nice touch instead of the obligatory email, I thought. He had read my query letter and asked me a few questions about the book. Like a job interview, I answered his questions and well, perhaps earbashed him with my enthusiastic response. He told me that he would refer it to the team for them to read. I hung up the phone in disbelief and excitement. But I think, in truth, I was feeling anxious. Was I truly ready for someone else to read my work? Did I want to hand over my baby to others?

A month later, I received some rejection letters from other big name publishers. Thanks but it’s not what we’re looking for … and so on. It was as I expected.

Then Adam called. “We’re interested,” he said, “but we need to get an evaluation report externally to determine the books saleability. We might need to change the title or structure.” He went on to say that I would need to make an investment to meet the cost of the evaluation feedback. Warning bells rang in my head. Traditional publishers never ask for money. Was Adam a vanity publisher? That is, one who’ll publish your book for a substantial fee. His web page indicated otherwise.

It was my turn to interview him. My years in business enabled me to get some answers. And I wasn’t very satisfied. The whole reason why a traditional publisher is sought after, is for their distribution network. They can get your books into book stores. Yet Adam’s distribution network was very small and mostly in schools. Then, I heard a podcast, warning writers about unscrupulous publishers stinging writers for tens of thousands of dollars. Adam’s company was one of them. I realised that he was not the publisher for me. Which is why it’s so important to research publishers.

It is indeed a hard slog for writers to get a book published by a traditional publisher. It is after all a business for book sellers, distributors, agents and publishers who together must make a living – often taking 90-95% of the takings from a book sale. The author gets the rest.

It was time for me to take stock and consider my options.


So you think you’ve finished your book


editor pic

I was smugly satisfied that my book was done. But was it?

There were nuances in my writing that my beta readers had pointed out; words in my dialogue such as ‘well’ at the beginning of a sentence was one example. I knew I needed help with punctuation – who doesn’t?

I read a lot about editing – copy editing, line editing, developmental editing – these terms were all confusing to me. I’d also heard that a writer should be their own editor. That an editor can change and interfere with the integrity of your story. Ok then, all I needed to do was critically edit my own work and organised for someone to proof read – surely that was enough.

Then I met a lovely lady called Meredith who asked to read my book. Luckily for me she’d been an editor in the past. She gently set me straight and pointed out ways to cut my wordy sentences. Did I really need a whole page to describe something which I’d said earlier in one line? Had I really developed the characters enough? Male dialogue sometimes sounded girly in parts; there were too many adverbs. She opened my eyes to things that only someone with such expertise can do. She could see things that I couldn’t and under her expert guidance I revised and revised. I realised then that I had needed that valuable advice and that my book was far from finished.

After the rewrites I found another lovely lady, Annie, who did a final edit. Like Meredith, she too gave me advice and feedback which all served to make my book the best that it could be.

When I look back at my first drafts, I just can’t imagine what I must have been thinking. If I’d released my book on the world in that state, I would have regretted it.

Writing is a journey especially for someone who is new to it. Increased skill will only come from practice,great feedback, more practice and more feedback. I don’t think I’ve nailed it and maybe I never will, but I’m motivated to continue on the scary path to improvement with many amazing people helping me along the way. I’m in awe of all the incredible editors out there and the painstaking work they do. Everyone needs them.

Yes, I lost the plot.

It was as if I’d taken a lover.I’d spent day and night with it. I thought of little else.
Pride, love and energy caressed each page. That was how I felt when I finished and printed my first draft.

Yet doubts haunted me. Was it good enough to show off yet? Filled with trepidation, I approached five people to read the first draft. I chose people who I knew would give me honest and direct feedback. I wasn’t interested in feeding my ego. I wanted to develop my writing.

Like waiting for exam results I was restless to have their feedback. Days and weeks rolled by as busy lives got in the way. Then one by one they came back. There were pencil notes on grammar, punctuation and sentence structure. Some pointed out flaws that I’d not seen before; changes in point of view; over explaining a point in two or three ways, repeating some of the same words over and over again. These were just a few areas to work on.

Then my good friend Don sat me down and asked, “What do you want your book to be about?” We talked about the plot. What was I writing? Was the plot a series of events pulled together without any cohesion? Yes, I had lost the plot.

I suddenly saw my book in a different light – it was clear what I needed to do. My book and I needed time apart. Fortunately, it was Christmas and the holiday season  made it easier to deal with any seperation anxiety.

Eight weeks later, I opened the file on the computer – there was my book. I’d missed it. I re-read the first chapter, said goodbye and then deleted it. Then, I painstakenly altered, deleted, expanded, tweaked and corrected. Each chapter and every sentence had to earn it’s  place. I had to be ruthless. With that, I changed the whole direction of the book.

You can’t do that to a lover.

Five things I’ve learnt about writing so far.


I had my story, but was trapped by the truth. How do I tell it, yet be faithful and true to the people who lived during 1948? I needed help but I didn’t know how to go about getting it.

Quite by chance I read an article about an upcoming Emerging Writers Festival in my city. I trawled through the site and worked out what sessions I wanted to attend.

The day arrived; it was cold and lonely walking into the large auditorium. I found a seat and the first session opened with a panel of five writers. The comments of  Emily Bitto and Hannah Kent resounded. They had both written and published historical fiction novels; The Strays and Burial Rites. I read them later and urge anyone to read them – they are fantastic!

These are the points that created an impact for me -:

1. Just write!

I went home and gave it a go and discovered that when I wrote I got into a zone. It was almost meditative.  I didn’t worry about where it was going or how it sounded. Naivety meant that I had no expectations and no rules to get in my way. It freed me!

Many people tell me that they have an idea but don’t know where to start. Go with the first thing that comes into your head and let it go. I might be wrong, but if you torture yourself about how to go about it, I can’t see how you’ll ever get it done.

2. Read, Read and read!
I have always been a prolific reader for pleasure but now I began dissecting the books I was reading for structure, language, character development – borrowing concepts and ideas to see how they fitted for my writing. One idea quickly led to another. I didn’t have anything to lose but try.

3. Be empathetic
I had to walk in the shoes of my characters and transport myself to 1948. What did my characters know, understand and feel about what was happening around them? How did they speak? I read newspapers of the time. The fear across the globe was of Communism and financial problems. When you read the newspapers today that fear is Islam and financial problems. Some things don’t change much.

4. Draw on your own experience
I pulled out character traits from people I knew, without even realising it. Now I can recognise elements of the people I have known throughout my life, in the characters I’ve built.

5. Don’t get bogged down in research.
I had spent months researching the era, Ocean Island, mining, the murders etc. How was all of this research going to find a place in my story? I suddenly realised that I could use fiction. I drew on my research when I needed it. It released my imagination and freed me up to write. It was exciting and exhilarating.


No wonder it became my obsession.

Feel free to let me know what you’ve learnt.